Delayed due to some reasons: annals of airport Chinglish, part 4

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The latest collection of "lost in translation" signs from the Mail Online offers some doozies:

But wait a minute! Though the English may sound strange, neither of these signs is mistranslated. That's what the Chinese really says:

yóuyú mǒuxiē yuányīn yánwù 由于某些原因延误
"delayed due to some reasons"

The plane is going to Amoy.

wénmíng jīchǎng 文明机场
"civilized airport"

This type of sign is standard throughout China.

These two signs are examples of what might be called "un-Chinglish". Technically, their "lost" quality is due not to mistranslation but to unfamiliarity with the sociocultural expectations of the circumstances in which they are found.

But this new Mail Online collection does have plenty of prime Chinglish samples, of which I here offer a small selection of the best:

qǐng bùyào bǎ yānhuī tánrù cǐchù! 请不要把烟灰弹入此处!
"Please don't bomb into the ash here!" –> "Please don't flick ashes here!"

The translation error arises from the fact that 弹 can be read both as dàn ("bomb") and tán ("flick; pluck").

xǐngxīn lóu 省心楼
THERETRDSPECTIENTOWER –> "tower / pavilion for introspection"

The first Language Log reader to figure out what the sign maker intended by "THERETRDSPECTIENTOWER" will receive a big brick of Puer tea.

huángdì jìng fáng jīzhǐ 皇帝净房基址
"The former address of the emperor's toilet" –> "Site / ruins of the emperor's bathroom".

The translators seem to have trouble with the English word for huǒ 火 and expressions that include it: FLRE, FIRO, FIRE FYDRANT.

One expression that gives the translators fits is

bùkě huíshōu 不可回收
"organism", "unredeemable", "unrecycling" –> "non-recyclable"

I've seen this one done in many other different ways, e.g., " irrecoverable", "no may reclaim", etc.

At the end of the photographs is a video which has dozens more instances of outstanding Chinglishisms. Keep your finger ready on the pause button because they pass by too quickly for full appreciation. Also, since many of the good parts are under the control bar, move your cursor to the bottom left for better visibility of important portions of the signs being shown.

[Tip of the hat to M. Kaan]



49 Comments

  1. Daniel Tse said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 8:44 am

    As for THERETRDSPECTIENTOWER, it's the usual case of letters miscopied by a signwriter who does not have an English language model (in the NLP sense), and hence has no idea what letter combinations are plausible, let alone what the words say.

    The intended script is 'The Retrospection Tower'.

  2. Daniel Tse said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 8:45 am

    (Incidentally, I am quite fond of 普洱, or bou2lei2 as we know it in Cantonese ;)

  3. Keith said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 8:57 am

    On non-recyclables:

    A few weeks ago I saw bins labeled "Not unrecyclable." As I recall, they were next to bins labeled "Recyclable." Where oh where was one to put plain ol' trash?

    (I think this was at Qianfoshan, in Shandong.)

  4. Victor Mair said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 9:01 am

    Darn, I was hoping that the first person wouldn't get it so easily.

    Tell me your address, Daniel, and I'll send the brick to you.

  5. Lauren said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 9:11 am

    Aw damn, I was hoping I would be the first one to get it. I wanted that tea :3

    It was really obvious, though.

  6. Sjiveru said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    Dang, and I was hoping some Chinese person had stumbled across American kids saying 'because reasons' :P

  7. Robert Coren said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 9:44 am

    One sometimes wishes that English-speaking airlines would be honest and have their signs say, "Flight delayed for no reason".

  8. Meena Vathyam said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    I have some Chinglish signs from my Shanghai compound and one from the Shanghai library – absolutely love them!! But, I've noticed that Google translate also provides these literal translations – it's the unfamiliarity with the culture and grammar/sentence construction.

  9. Jon Lennox said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 10:06 am

    So what are the sociocultural expectations that lead to "Delayed Due To Some Reasons" and "Civilized Airport"?

  10. Faldone said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 10:55 am

    This flight intentionally left blank.

  11. Ted said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 10:56 am

    Can someone who reads Chinese explain what a "mind crotch" is? I've been staring at the sign for ten minutes and haven't the foggiest notion of what it could possibly be.

  12. Faldone said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 10:58 am

    Baby diaper exchange doesn't sound any weirder than the common, at least in the US, Baby changing station.

  13. Daniel Barkalow said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 11:19 am

    The first group probably ought to include the (improved) translation of 开水间 as "Boiler Room" or "Water Heater Room". Despite being a technically accurate description of the contents of the room and conveying the information in the original, it manages to give the impression that the room is not open to the public and not related to drinking water.

  14. OrenWithAnE said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

    So what does "delayed due to some reasons" actually intend to communicate (beyond "delayed", which presumably does not happen spontaneously)?

  15. Lane said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

    I love "due to some reasons." Next time I need to make an excuse for myself, I'm going to say that I dropped the ball due to some reasons.

    It reminds me of Mark's post on "Because NOUN", which could include "because reasons". I was late because reasons.

  16. Neil Dolinger said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

    "delayed due to some reasons" Not sure if this is better or worse than the automated announcements I often hear in Chinese airports that say, "Flight MUxxxx to is delayed due to … delay".

    Re "wénmíng jīchǎng 文明机场". I wonder which airport this photo was taken in. Could very well be the name of the airport! BTW, tried tracing the flight through the China Eastern (MU) website, but they claim there are no MU flights going to Xiamen, at least not directly.

  17. Neil Dolinger said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

    As unhelpful as these un-Chinglish airport announcements are, at least they aren't saying "Flight MUxxxx to is delayed … 'cause we said so!".

  18. julie lee said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

    "Flight Delayed for Various Reasons" might be a more idiomatic translation.

    I hope American airports will adopt this sign because I'm always asking "Why is the flight delayed?" Is it storm in Chicago, ice on wing, mechanical difficulty, etc. etc.? One answer, "Various Reasons", will fit all.

  19. Howard Oakley said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    I have at last found the semantic source for the apologies that confront me almost daily when travelling on the ferries to the Isle of Wight (yes, England).
    Wightlink, the operator, inevitably excuses these delays by explaining that they are 'due to operational reasons', or occasionally they are even more informative and state that they are 'due to operational problems'.
    As a regular commuter, we have malapropized them to "due to optional raisins", which makes just as must sense and has similar semantic content.
    Howard.

  20. David Morris said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

    I have a photo of a staircase on a boat in Korea, reading 'Foot carefulness' and 'Head carefulness'.

  21. Victor Mair said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

    On "mind crotch", it's not a crotch for / of the mind. This "mind" is like the "mind" of "mind the gap." So "mind crotch" would mean either something like "mind the crotch [branch / fork of a tree]" or "mind that you [crouch down so you don't] hit your head," which is literally what the Chinese says: dāngxīn pèngtóu 当心碰头 ("be careful not to hit your head").

  22. Chris C. said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

    I wonder if "due to reasons" was influenced by the current expression "because of reasons". This seems to mean either that a correct explanation is too complex to relate briefly, or that the writer doesn't simply feel like explaining why, or perhaps that the explanations provided to the writer were too stupid to bother with.

  23. William Steed said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

    THERETRDSPECTIENTOWER isn't too hard to work out, once you realise that someone was copying manually, rather than copy-pasting, and mistook O for D, and misspelled the -tion suffix, then couldn't be bothered with spaces. The Retrospection Tower is not a horrible mistranslation – intro- and retro-spection are different, but one's back, one's inside. They're both pretty advanced words for a second language learner. The Google Translate version gives me "Worry Floor".

    That said, if someone's good enough to get 'retrospection tower', they should know to put in spaces, and the difference betweeen O and D. I suspect one person did a translation, and then someone else who doesn't know English made the sign based on a written note.

  24. Zeppelin said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

    I'm curious as to the literal meaning of bùkě huíshōu — I'm having trouble imagining a phrase that translates as both "organism" and "non-recyclable".

  25. Victor Mair said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

    @Zeppelin

    The literal meaning of bùkě huíshōu 不可回收 is "cannot recover / retrieve / reclaim". I think that the "organism" may have been an attempt to convey the notion of "organic", but I'm not sure how that relates to "non-recyclable".

  26. Jenny said,

    March 20, 2013 @ 11:25 pm

    @ Victor

    Well, if it:s organic, it's generally not recyclable….I'm not familiar enough with the Chinese side of recycling, but in Japan, raw/organic/once-living garbage (生ごみ) is included in the spectrum of burnable garbage, whereas plastics, paper, pet bottles, aluminum cans, steel cans, and a myriad of other stuffs are recyclable, and then you have the non-burnables which are the household garbage items can neither be recycled nor burned (broken glass, a janked up frying pan, etc.). Assuming the Chinese are also hesitant about trying to recycle leftover food and whatnot . Hope this helped explain the connection.

  27. Anthony said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 12:20 am

    My guess, bereft of any knowledge of Chinese, about "civilized airport" is that they meant "civilian airport" – either that this airport was the civilian airport in town and there's a military one elsewhere, or that the signed part of the airport was for civilians, while military travelers should go to some other part of the airport.

  28. Carl said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 2:07 am

    No, 文明 is quite clearly "civilization" and not "civilian" which would be 文民.

  29. Syan said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 3:34 am

    Civilised Airport may be a marketing slogan.

    http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/aviation_polls/read.main/77063/

  30. Andrew said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 4:57 am

    As Victor pointed out, signs announcing a workplace as being "civilized" are ubiquitous throughout China, and serve to indicate that, theoretically at least, the place is run by polite and helpful staff who will always give you a civil response.

  31. G Jones said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 7:07 am

    But what IS a retrospection tower? A place for prayer?

  32. X.Jiao said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 7:21 am

    >Carl
    It's 平民 (píng mín), not 文民 (wén mín)

    I don't think the first one is that headscratching. It simply implies
    'The flight's delayed, and we don't know why/
    we don't want to specify why/
    we are too lazy to program a plethora of different texts to describe different reasons so here's your default description.'
    In any case, it's arguably more honest than some other airports in the world.

    The second one is more cultural-specific to mainland China. Civility (wén míng) is one of the virtues a model Chinese citizen is supposed to have and is most touted in slogans/propaganda texts. You practically see this phrase everywhere in China. It is not that weird to see that on an award. It's likely that this particular airport (most emphatically unlikely to be named Wén Míng itself) was deemed more orderly than the others by some officials and was awarded this plate.

  33. X.Jiao said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 7:30 am

    >G Jones

    I suppose so. The tower in case is within an Islamic mosque complex built during Ming dynasty. The three characters are literally 'Introspect, heart, tower', Victor's translation is spot on.

  34. julie lee said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 8:35 am

    Has anyone mentioned that "Retrospection Tower" might be a malapropism for "Introspection Tower" ?

  35. joanne salton said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 10:10 am

    I think most people who have taught in China, or taught Chinese abroad, will have asked a student why they failed to attend and have been told "I had business" or something like that. The typical Chinese language routine allows people to answer "wo you shi" – "I have stuff to do" – to that sort of quesion, without giving a real explanation. I suppose in general East Asians are under less social pressure to be explicit and direct about things, or get to the "point".

  36. Ted said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

    @VHM: Wow. I would never have defaulted to interpreting context-free "mind" as a verb

    In part this may be because, as an American, I use the verb almost exclusively in the sense of "object to," which doesn't make much sense in the imperative. I'm aware of the British usage of "mind" to mean "be careful of" or "take care of," but they're not really part of my dialect.

  37. Ted said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

    Presumably 文明 in Chinese does not have the connotations of "civilized" in English, meaning something like "no longer in the Hobbesian state of nature."

    A civilized airport, to me, is one in which it is safe to assume, for example, that a gate attendant could ask passengers to allow people traveling with small children to board first without worrying that one of them would pull out a broadsword and hack her to pieces for having the temerity to make such a request.

    I would hope that state of affairs is sufficiently unremarkable that one would not feel the need to advertise it on a sign.

  38. Joe said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

    @julie lee / Chris C / Howard Oakley

    When I saw "due to some reasons", I too immediately thought both of "because of reasons" and that British public transport classic "due to operational reasons".

    I detest "due to operational reasons" – it's just corporate bullshit for: "something broke but we don't want to explain because you might be too scared to ever fly with us again" or "there was an administrative cock-up, but were not going to admit to it because were deluding ourselves that you actually believe we run our railways with the ruthless efficiency of the Swiss".

    And absolutely no one believes it; not even the poor person expected to make the announcement, as I witnessed at Heathrow recently. After sitting in departures for what felt like forever, watching the monitor show my flight as "on time" then "go to gate" then "delayed", and watching an increasingly irate queue of people each approach the desk only to be sent away with a few words and an apologetic shrug, a more senior staffer eventually emerged and handed a piece of paper to the poor beleaguered girl on the desk. The following pantomime then ensured.

    Beleaguered girl takes said paper, leans towards the mike and starts to read: "On behalf of Rubbish Airways, we are sorry to announce the delay of flight RAnnn to Edinburgh. This is due to" and at this point beleaguered girl pauses and looks plaintively at senior staffer as if to say "you really expect me to read this?" Senior staffer just frowns and nods brusquely, so beleaguered girl, looking slightly scared by now, turns back to the mike, looks down at the piece of paper and, stumbling over her words, says: "reasons".

    Senior staffer then snatches the sheet of paper from poor beleaguered girl, elbows her aside from the mike, and reads: "This is due to OPERATIONAL reasons", and storms off.

    I actually find US airlines better at this sort of thing, and whilst nervous flyers might prefer not to hear: "Hi folks this is your captain speaking. As you know we were late taking off from O'Hare because we had to wait to be de-iced and for the runway to be swept, so we've missed our landing slot at Nashville and the storm has reached now them too. It's a white-out down there and they can only take instrument landings on one runway, so there's quite a queue up here and were at the back of it. You aren't getting down on the ground any time soon I'm afraid, but we've got plenty of fuel so were just going to keep circling for now, and if we get down to fumes I'm just going to glide on over Louisville and take on some more. So you just take it easy, sit back and watch the movie, and we'll get you where you are going just as soon as we can", I appreciate the candour.

  39. Ted said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 5:00 pm

    I suppose "delayed due to some reasons" does convey some (i.e., a single quantum of) information. It rules out the possibility that the flight is delayed for no reason whatsoever.

  40. joanne salton said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

    Does nobody agree that Chinese people are simply culturally less inclined to worry about outlining the "operational" reasons (as in Joe's story), then?

    I would say that you are more easily permitted this kind of face-saving gambit in Chinese culture, because saving face is so vital, and that furthermore an authority figure is much more able to get away with it in China and not have to worry about pleasing the voters or the customers.

  41. Jon Lennox said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

    So "Civilized Airport" would be idiomatically something more like "Airport Civility Award"?

    In the U.S. (and probably Britain) I'd expect such a sign to say who granted the award, and when, but that's definitely in the realm of sociocultural expectations.

    What does the smaller text on that sign say?

  42. Daniel Tse said,

    March 21, 2013 @ 11:19 pm

    Sent a mail to vmair snail sas.upenn.edu.

    I have always also wondered about the captions on the public recycling bins in Hong Kong: http://tinyurl.com/d5vebwt

    It doesn't strike me as a Britishism.

  43. H said,

    March 22, 2013 @ 8:17 am

    @Joe:
    I'm rather reminded of a 1980s Not the Nine O'Clock News sketch where the captain announces 'ARGH! THE THIRD ENGINE'S FAILED! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE, but seriously, ladies and gentlemen…' The passengers were not amused then.

    @Ted:
    Like, say, an airport where a gate attendant could tell a man he was late for his flight without having him attempt to smash glass, kick in computers and shout at her for the temerity of her request?

  44. julie lee said,

    March 22, 2013 @ 9:08 am

    Jon Lennox:
    You're right, it probably is a "Civility Airport" award. The smaller type at the bottom says "中國民用航空總局" , which means "Chinese Civil Aviation Administration".

  45. Ted said,

    March 22, 2013 @ 9:42 am

    @H: Exactly. Fortunately, the situation you describe is sufficiently infrequent that we would characterize only the passenger as uncivilized, and say that his behavior is out of place in a civilized airport.

    If, heaven forfend, the norms of behavior at any airport of my acquaintance were to decline to the point where such a scenario were, if not the norm, at least not entirely unpredictable, I would have to say that the airport itself had become uncivilized.

  46. B.Ma said,

    March 22, 2013 @ 9:46 am

    @D.Tse

    Probably some civil servant trying to prove he was smart. I guess it's just an archaism rather than a Britishism.

  47. Anna said,

    March 28, 2013 @ 9:54 am

    I took an informal Buddhist class for a while in Beijing. Every week we got a text saying that as usual class would be then-and-then, there-and-there, please let us know if you can't make it. Sometimes we got a text saying that the class was cancelled for the week 因故, which I can only translate as 'because of reasons'. (One could then guess the reasons, ranging from the teacher being away to official party stuff going on in Beijing.) I thought it was a great expression.

  48. Keith said,

    March 31, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

    Civil aviation, as opposed to military aviation, happens at civil airports, I presume.

    From there, it is an easy mistake to get the words "civil" and "civilized" mixed up.

    "He is a very civil fellow" and "he is a very civilized fellow" strike me as being within a gnat's whisker of each other in meaning.

  49. Caitlin said,

    April 1, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

    Making things more 文明 "civilized" has been a big Chinese propaganda push since just before the Beijing Olympics. Pretty much anything can be made more "civilized." It seems to be a reincarnation of the 卫生 "sanitary" propaganda of earlier eras.

    citizens and the city
    http://pica.nipic.com/2008-07-22/2008722122248368_2.jpg

    driving
    http://www.nipic.com/show/2/68/6743082kb00a5cd7.html

    and here is a website dedicated to the topic:
    http://wenming.cn/

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